Could the Healthy Workplaces Initiative Transform Employee Wellbeing Strategies in the NHS?

Monica Kalia, Co-Founder of Neyber looks at the importance of including staff financial wellbeing in healthy workplace initiatives.
Earlier this year NHS England revealed plans to financially incentivise Trusts to improve the health and wellbeing of their staff in England, as part of their Healthy Workplaces initiative. Will this be the catalyst that transforms employee wellbeing strategies in the health service?
The initiative is being implemented by the newly created ‘Commissioning for Quality and Innovation’ (CQUIN) for wellbeing, which has published guidance designed to help NHS organisations reach a set of health and wellbeing related targets. The focus is on giving staff access to health and wellbeing initiatives that support them in making healthy choices and lives.
NHS organisations are able to negotiate a slice of the £600m national incentive fund in 2016/17 provided that they: improve their score in health and wellbeing related (including MSK and stress) staff survey questions by 5%, transform their onsite healthy eating options and increase the uptake of flu vaccinations for frontline staff to 75%.
Although improving employee wellbeing has been on the agenda in the NHS for some time, to date little impact has been made in reducing absence. The latest figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show that NHS staff sickness absence for February 2015 and 2016 remained the same at 4.42%. Estimates from Public Health England put the cost to the NHS of staff absence due to poor health at £2.4bn a year – around £1 in every £40 of the total budget, with NHS England stating that if we reduced sickness absence by 1 day per person per year then the NHS would save around £150m, equivalent to around 6,000 full time staff.
Research in the healthcare sector recently undertaken by Neyber ‘The DNA of Financial Wellbeing’ has highlighted just how much of absence and poor health may be due to financial stress. For example, 11% of staff have missed a day at work as a result of financial worries, 35% of staff have less than one month’s savings should something unexpected happen, and as many as 91% of NHS staff in £30-£39K salary bracket said that they were affected by financial worries in the past year.

In addition, the TUC found that household debt is rising again, with total unsecured debt reaching a new high. It rose to £319bn in the third quarter of 2015 – a record high, and well above the £290bn peak in 2008 ahead of the financial crisis. Looked at per household, debt has never been higher at £11,800, up £600 on a year earlier. Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, commented: “Many of those affected by debt will be public service workers who have suffered eight years of zero pay rises, followed by a government-imposed cap on earnings.”
Neyber’s research highlights the importance of including financial wellbeing within your overall wellbeing strategy. The impact of financial stress on physical and mental health is significant, and should not be ignored. Although the continued taboo of financial stress means that 79% of employees report that they are too uncomfortable to discuss financial issues with their employer, when Trusts look at the reports from their EAP providers they often see that there is a pattern of calls in relation to debt issues. We do know that mental health issues account for around a third of sickness absence within the NHS with some estimates suggesting that at some point during their career 15-30% of workers will experience a mental health problem during their working lives. In addition, a cyclical relationship exists between mental health and debt issues. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that people with mental health problems are four to six times more likely to have a debt crisis than those without.
We are working with a number of trusts who are actively building financial wellbeing, education and access to fair finance into their wellbeing strategy as part of their CQUIN applications for 2016/7 and beyond.
It’s time to start the conversation – in the same way that discussing physical and mental health strategies is a relatively recent development in NHS organisations, financial wellbeing should be recognised as core to an individual’s and hence organisation’s overall wellbeing.

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